Donald Trump has fired the first shot in his long-promised war on the media with a libel lawsuit against The New York Times over its coverage of Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Trump was notorious for using the courts during his business career to frustrate and deter anyone who complained about his business practices, including failing to pay bills. The latest action fits the pattern.
The suit has little to no prospect of success, but that’s likely not the point. Consider it part of a campaign strategy to intimidate and cow the media’s reporting on the upcoming election.
The suit was filed through Trump’s re-election campaign so contributions, rather than his personal funds, can be used to finance legal costs.
The suit targets an opinion column published in 2019 that asserted and “overarching deal” existed between his 2016 campaign and Russian president Vladimir Putin.
The column, written by longtime Times executive editor Max Frankel charged that Russia was working to defeat Democratic rival Hillary Clinton.
“The Trumpites knew about the quid and held out the prospect of the quo,” Frankel wrote.
The statements were and are 100 percent false and defamatory, the complaint alleges. “The Times was aware of the falsity at the time it published them, but did so for the intentional purpose of hurting the campaign, while misleading its own readers in the process,” said Jenna Ellis, senior legal adviser to Donald J. Trump for President, Inc., in a statement.
The lawsuit says the article fails to point to proof of a “quid pro quo” or a “deal” between the Trump campaign and Moscow.
Ironically, the suit claims the falsity of the story was “confirmed” by special counsel Robert Mueller’s report, based on a two-year investigation into allegations of criminal wrongdoing by the Trump campaign.
Trump has repeatedly claimed in statements and at campaign rallies the report “totally vindicates” him and his campaign. It actually does nothing of the sort.
While the Mueller investigation did not find conclusive evidence of a criminal conspiracy to defraud the American public, it found at least 101 known points of contact from Nov. 2015 to January of 2017 between Trump campaign associates and Russian government-linked individuals or entities.
Sixteen Trump campaign officials are known to have had direct contact with a Russian government official or a Russian-linked operative, and at least an additional nine campaign officials were aware of these contacts, according to the report.
Mueller identified two separate Russian interference efforts. The first was an online disinformation campaign spearheaded by a firm called the Internet Research Agency. The second was a targeted campaign that waged cyber attacks on the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s campaign.
The attackers stole DNC and Clinton campaign emails and other documents through hacks and disseminated the documents over WikiLeaks. All 13 U.S. intelligence agencies concluded that Russia made a concerted effort to interfere in the campaign on Trump’s behalf.
Three Russian companies and 34 operatives in Russia and other countries, as well as eight Americans affiliated with the Trump campaign or administration were indicted.
In addition, the Mueller report identified at least 10 instances where Trump personally engaged in obstruction of justice to thwart the investigation.
The Trump campaign is seeking compensation the court “may deem proper.” But it’s hard to see what the campaign committee hopes to gain from the lawsuit other than to aid Trump’s re-election campaign.
For its part, the Times responded with the following statement: “The Trump Campaign has turned to the courts to try to punish an opinion writer for having an opinion they find unacceptable. Fortunately, the law protects the right of Americans to express their judgments and conclusions, especially about events of public importance. We look forward to vindicating that right in this case.”
Trump was impeached for withholding military aid in an effort to coerce Ukraine into announcing a investigation of Democratic rival Joe Biden and his son. He was acquitted by the Senate.
The complaint, filed in New York state supreme court can be read in full here: DONALD J. TRUMP FOR PRESIDENT, INC. v. THE NEW YORK TIMES COMPANY.